Washington USO Honors Exceptional Servicemembers, Volunteers

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., March 26, 2008 - The stars were out here last night -- in insignia form on officers' shoulder boards, and also embodied by celebrity guests such as comedian Jon Stewart -- to salute outstanding servicemembers and other special honorees.

The United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington, which assists some 300,000 local troops and families, hosted its 26th annual awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in an evening devoted to honoring those in uniform and the people who gave them 60,000 hours of volunteer service last year.

"Thank all of you for your generosity," John Marselle, chairman of the board of directors, told the more than 600 audience members, many of whom provide financial or other support to the USO. "Servicemembers are the fiber of the country, and at the USO Metro, every person is honored and privileged to serve."

Before presenting Stewart with the USO Metro's award for merit, Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the audience. He thanked members of the military medical corps and the 34 Medal of Honor recipients in attendance, and praised the USO for bringing servicemembers "a slice of what we protect every day and every night."

Cartwright said Stewart, who paid regular visits last year to wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., was affected by "two truths" that confront everybody upon first meeting wounded war veterans.

"As you walk through the hospitals and as you have the opportunity to go to the Arlington National Cemetery and the ceremonies there ... you walk away with two truths," he said. "The first is the trepidation of your first visit, and the realization afterwards that you're not sure who got more out of it -- you or them.

"And the second, which is probably equally heartening, is that we have a generation of youth that's out there serving this nation, that is ready to own this nation, and they will do us proud," Cartwright continued. "And once you walk and understand these two truths, you come back and you come back, because they're worth it."

At the conclusion of the evening, Cartwright presented the USO of Metropolitan Washington Merit Award to Stewart, host of the satirical television program "The Daily Show," who gave a self-deprecating acceptance speech that had the crowd in stitches.

"This is rare. It's one of those nights where last actually is least," said Stewart, whose speech was preceded by a poignant address from a severely burned Iraq war veteran, and a chorus of patriotic videos, musical performances and other presentations.

Stewart's initial urge to meet with wounded troops was born of a desire to break out of what he described as "a world of theory" absent of the realities of war. One day last year, the comedian drove from his home in New York City to Walter Reed, where he met an Army lieutenant recovering from a leg amputation he underwent after a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle in Iraq.

"(The soldier) had overcome maybe 20 surgeries, ... and he went through this entire story of all the hardships he had been through," Stewart recalled. "And at the very end of it, he looked at me and he said, 'Although on the positive side, think of all the money I'm going to be saving on shoes.

"I was dumbfounded. He was braver than I was, funnier than I was," Stewart said. "And that's continued throughout all these trips."

In an attempt to explain servicemembers' exceptional quality, Stewart said he realized that the people who risk their lives have the most to lose.

"The outstanding abilities -- whether it be their intelligence or their grit or their feeling of brotherhood -- is unlike anything that I think I've ever experienced, and you would think those would be the people we lock in a vault so that no harm could come to them, because they truly are the greatest that our country has to offer," he said. "And yet, those are the very people that we allow and choose to have in harm's way to defend us.

"I don't think there's a greater gift they can give to this country," he said, "than to sacrifice the greatness of their future for our present."

Other award recipients included Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Erick A. Lieb, who received the Coast Guard's Air Medal. Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, presented the award to Lieb, who saved the lives of five drowning people, assisted 38 others and rescued 13 animals last year during a 10-hour rescue mission in the Pacific Northwest.

In addition, Army Sgt. 1st Class Kishma S. Thomas received the C. Haskell Small Award for Volunteerism. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, honored Thomas with the award and a $1,000 savings bond for her exceptional community involvement.

*Related Sites:*
USO of Metropolitan Washington  [ ]
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